A friend said recently she couldn’t imagine her daughter having an Eating Disorder, because she loved her food and was just too sensible. I know she was being well meaning – and six months ago, I’d have thought the same thing. But – and this has been validated by the excellent book by Janet Treasure that I am now reading – the thing is, that’s exactly the kind of girls that might end up with an ED. I don’t want to scare mothers out there or to be the harbinger of doom, but EDs happen to all of us and especially the sensible, the mature and the high achieving.
Anyway, back to L. She was born 14 years ago, and from the moment she entered the world she made it better for everyone. She was the kind of baby that will make a smug mother of anyone, easy going, smiley and of course, like all babies, she was beautiful. Except she really was, the kind of baby that made people stop and comment on her.
I hate the use of words which define stereotypical gender roles – but in L’s case, she was just really really sweet. Not in saccharine way, but in a heart melting way. She would share her things without complaint, she wanted to make a pet of every animal – even the ugliest insect – and she was always ready to look after others. I wish I could share the stories – but nothing I do her must identify her.
in addition to her sweetness though was an astonishing determination and drive. if she set her mind to something, she would do it, no matter how hard, no matter how much frustration, she would carry on. As she got older, if something was too hard, she would fly into rages, but not give up. She has always worked so hard at school, wanting to be the clever one, being competitive and never quite believing that she is good enough. She has big dreams and ambitions – and as a lifelong feminist, I want her to have these, but have they been too pressured?
I can still remember how acutely I watched for anything which would damage her self esteem – it’s worth mentioning I had an ED myself, and I so desperately wanted my children not to go through the same thing. L was a child that some would call chubby. Not even close to fat, but that lovely soft squidginess which is just typical of young girls. But I remember the icy dread the first day she said she was fat. I told her she was not fat, that she was beautiful. When she got older I talked to her about shape, how people have different shapes, I pointed out my own curves and said that this is my shape. But now I recall how often I expressed my own hatred of my body and just wish I could go back and undo that. And then one day, it seemed, her body changed, she grew so tall and this slender, stunning young woman emerged, who took our breath away. But what did she see?
She cares about others so much – when her grandfather was ill and became confused, aggressive, incontinent, L would sit with him, feed him and spend ages holding his hand, where other children stayed away. Was it wrong to let her do that when she wanted to and was really keen to help? Was she just doing it to help others, to take care of her older family members who were so distressed. L is a ‘carer’, a best friend who is always there, a sister who intervenes to help her siblings, a daughter who gets tea ready when her parents are out at work? Could one of the worst things of this illness be that everything about her gets scrutinised as a symptom rather than just being accepted as part of the loveliness that is L?
I sat in the kitchen one day when L came home with her two best friends. They all made themselves drinks and as they chatted, I looked at L and her two friends, both of whom are astonishingly thin and I realised, with the same dread, that every time they tried on clothes, got ready to go out, L would look at them and compare her beautiful slender size 10 body with theirs and find it wanting. I know that its not the only reason, but its one of a growing list of reasons that brought us to here today.
She is here now, so am signing off. She is on the sofa with her lovely friend S. We are going to watch their favourite programme and for the next hour or so, just do the stuff that reminds us of how normal life can be and how we can still have these precious times together